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Aberdeen’s first vegan cafe has a new rooftop garden

Secret garden: It may look small from the outside but Bonobo is full of surprises as the newly renovated rooftop garden proves. Picture by Kath Flannery.
Secret garden: It may look small from the outside but Bonobo is full of surprises as the newly renovated rooftop garden proves. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Just like the spices used in their secret turmeric latte recipe, Bonobo Cafe has brought a reinvigorating kick to Aberdeen’s cafe scene.

Since opening its doors as Aberdeen’s first-ever vegan cafe five years ago, the quirky Skene Street venue has reached legendary status for serving up delicious food, drinks and plenty of laughs courtesy of the energetic head barista Isaac Barnes and front of house manager Debbie Thornton.

From their super popular chai latte – made using locally sourced spices and homemade syrup – to their creamy deluxe hot chocolate, overflowing with vegan whipped cream, marshmallows and a special chocolate sauce, a visit to Bonobo has all the right ingredients.

The hot chocolate served in a green cup and saucer bursting with cream and marshmallows
Sweet dreams: The deluxe vegan hot chocolate is a firm favourite with customers. Picture by Kath Flannery.

New rooftop garden

After a pandemic induced turbulent few years, the cafe is once again at the beating heart of the Granite City’s cafe culture complete with a beautifully renovated rooftop garden and plans to open in the evenings.

“It’s been two years now since the pandemic started so having stopped everything before restarting again and completing a renovation, it’s felt like we’ve started the business again,” said Claire Sweeney, 33, one of the cafe’s owners.

“The last couple of years have been a massive challenge but I feel like we’re going to come into a good period now especially as summer is on its way.”

‘Passion project’

With a deep desire to provide the community with locally sourced vegan produce, Claire and fellow owner Sarah Mouat initially set up Bonobo as a pop-up shop in a former wellbeing centre.

It proved so popular that what started out as a “passion project” quickly became something more than they ever imagined.

“Every weekend for nearly two years we ran a pop-up cafe every Saturday with volunteers and we used all the money saved from that to go towards the cafe,” said Claire.

The Bonobo tribe: Pictured clockwise from left is Debbie Thornton, Alicja Trepka, Isaac Barnes and Claire Sweeney. Picture by Kath Flannery.

“We also ran a Crowdfunding campaign which raised £14,000 to fit the cafe out so that’s how we started.

“Our vision was to make Bonobo Cafe a lovely experience so someone can walk in and feel like they are getting a great service, delicious food in a lovely setting and to normalise veganism.”

Turmeric latte

Vegan or not, Bonobo Cafe is a delicious revelation for the tastebuds.

Far from just your run of the mill tea and coffee, the brilliant baristas at Bonobo take pride in putting their own mouthwatering twist on classic drinks.

One of the most popular drinks on their menu is their tasty turmeric latte.

It’s so popular in fact that Claire is careful not to give away too many of the ingredients they use.

Work of barista art: Bonobo’s turmeric latte is made using locally sourced spices and maple syrup. Picture by Kath Flannery.

“For our turmeric latte, we make our own blend up ourselves,” said Claire.

“I think a lot of places you go to just use turmeric and put it through the milk.

“But we use a complex mix of spices including black pepper which helps the curcumin in the turmeric to do it’s anti-inflammatory thing.

“We then steam that with maple syrup.

“We sometimes put cayenne through it as well which sounds mad but it’s nice to have a bit of spice – it’s got a bit of a kick to it.”

Peppermint matcha latte

Customers also can’t get enough of Bonobo’s ceremonial grade match latte.

“Some people are fussy about their matcha so we use a good quality one and mix that with maple syrup and then steam that through milk,” said Claire.

“Matcha is very fine ground green tea so it has all the antioxidant properties of green tea.

“It’s a really nice drink for people who don’t really like the jittery effect that coffee can have.

“We also recommend adding peppermint to the matcha as it’s a really nice combination.”

Green for go: The matcha latte with peppermint is a winning combination. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Locally roasted coffee

And if it’s just a good cup of coffee you’re after, Bonobo will not disappoint.

“The coffee that we use is locally roasted by Nick Duthie at Red Robin Records Vinyl Cafe,” said Claire.

“We’re really happy with the coffee, it works really well.”

Full of beans: The cafe uses coffee beans which are locally roasted by Nick Duthie at Red Robin Records Vinyl Cafe. Picture by Kath Flannery.

To give their drinks a mouthwatering creamy flavour without dairy, the team at Bonobo meticulously select sustainable milk alternatives.

“We use oat milk from an English company called Minor Figures, it’s nice and creamy,” said Claire.

“We actually stopped using soy milk because we’re not keen on the flavour so we use pea milk as our gluten free option.

“No it doesn’t taste anything like peas and it’s not green, it’s nice and creamy and leaves a lot of room for the coffee’s flavour as it doesn’t overpower the coffee.

“It’s also really good for you as it has lots of protein.”

Caffeine kick: If a good coffee is what you’re after then you won’t be disappointed at Bonobo. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Sustainable business

Being a sustainable business is the heart of everything Bonobo does.

“We stopped using coconut milk because it’s just not sustainable as we were going through so much of it,” said Claire.

“So we’re just trying to reduce the amount we go through and replace it with more sustainable options.”

Horticultural haven: Sustainability is at the root of everything at Bonobo. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Milkshakes are coming back

With summer fast approaching iced coffees and moreish milkshakes will soon be added to the menu.

“This year we’re going to introduce a new milkshake made using a new cream filled wafer bar from a vegan confectionary company called Love Raw,” said Claire.

Tea drinkers are also spoiled for choice with an array of loose tea options available while their hot chocolates are simply to die for.

Tea time: Tea genies are taken care of as Bonobo has an array of options on offer. Picture by Kath Flannery.

“For our hot chocolate we make our own chocolate sauce using cocoa powder, maple syrup and a little bit of sea salt,” said Claire.

“We also have an option to add orange or peppermint to that.

“The deluxe hot chocolate is also really popular and is made using all vegan ingredients including whipped cream, marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and chocolate sauce over-the-top.

“That’s one that’s served with a spoon so you can actually eat the chocolate.”

Kombucha tap

One of the cafe’s latest additions has been the introduction of a kombucha tap where people can fill up bottles of the fermented green tea drink which is made by the local supplier Gut Feelings Kombucha.

“We usually have a lemon and ginger kombucha and a seasonal special so this month it’s carrot and cardomum and raspberry and mint.”

Refreshing refills: Head barista Isaac Barnes pours himself a delicious kombucha tea. Picture by Kath Flannery.

It’s not only drinks that Bonobo is famed for as their food offering also hits the spot.

“We have a breakfast and lunch menu and on Sunday we do an all-day breakfast and breakfast baps as well as smoked carrot bagels,” said Claire.

“We also get cakes and bread from the Vegan Bay Baker so we have traditional yum yums and doughnuts.”

Vegan vibes: The vibrant interior gives Bonobo a chilled out atmosphere. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Regulars at Bonobo will already know and love the roof garden area which has recently underwent a make-over to provide more seating.

And to make the most of their new and improved garden space, Claire and the team are hoping to open in the evenings too.

“We need to build up our kitchen team and once that’s done, we’re going to look at opening a couple of evenings a week,” said Claire.

Reflecting on how far the cafe has come, especially during lockdown, Claire said it’s all down to the incredible support they have received from the local community.

“We wouldn’t be here without their support,” said Claire.

Brimming with character: It’s not just the exterior that is colourful at Bonobo as the friendly staff give it a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Picture by Kath Flannery.

A round of questions with Claire Sweeney

It’s the end of the day, what do you pour yourself?

After working in the kitchen all day – a large glass of water and a bath!

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

A chai latte, a bit sweet and a bit spicy.

Most unusual drink you’ve ever tried?

A turmeric latte with a shot of espresso – it’s an off menu drink! We call it a dirty Joe as one of our staff used to always have it. I’m not keen and it hasn’t made it onto the menu yet.

What’s the most under-rated drink?

Fresh lemonade – we make in the summer and it’s amazing.

What’s in your drinks cabinet at home?

A massive collection of teas.

Best food and drink pairing?

Coffee and cake.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three drinks would be there with you?

At least fresh water for survival I would hope!

You have to make a drink to represent Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire. What would that be?

Something warming. A spicy chai with extra cayenne.

You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. Who is it and what do you serve?

I’d bring my mum and I would serve whatever she wanted – she’s my superhero.

Tell us a secret trick of the trade?

The best trick in hospitality is to keep your attitude positive and work hard, and always ensure you give the customer an experience they won’t forget. A small comment, or small gesture can go a long way to making someone’s day.

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